Batavia’s beginning

Batavia Village will celebrate its bicentennial year in 2014, and The Clermont Sun is publishing a series of historic vignettes concerning the community, of which this is the third. The late Rosanna Hoberg was a long-time columnist and reporter for The Clermont Sun. This column originally appeared in the Sun in observation of Batavia’s sesquicentennial celebration 50 years ago.

By Rosanna Hoberg

The land along the East Fork of the Little Miami River, a branch of the mighty Ohio, lay fertile, dense and drowsy, its quiet broken only by the wildlife in its depths and occasional footsteps of wandering Miami and Wyandot Indians. For years the land slumbered thus, and then the white men came.

First came the brave and the eager, a few at a time, in search of the richness from furs and trade with the Indians. Back they went from the Ohio Country with tall tales of the possibilities of this vast virgin land.

It has been said that Ohio was born in the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston on a March night in 1786, when the Ohio Company formed to buy land for settlement in the vast Northwest. In 1788 the Ohio wilderness opened to settlers. Families pushed westward, trekked through the wilderness, and headed into the Ohio River.

George Washington said of these early settlers, “No Colony in America was settled under more favorable auspices. I know many of the settlers personally, and there were never men better calculated to promote the welfare of a community.”

One settler, Ezekiel Dimmitt, of the family of John Dimmitt, came from Virginia to Kentucky in 1795, when he was about 22 years of age. The following year, young Dimmitt decided to come to Ohio and to prospect for his own land. He brought with him for protection and companionship another young man, James Gest. The two adventurers crossed the Ohio River and plunged into the timber growth, plodding up hills and down valleys and following small streams until they found the spot for which they had been looking — a fine tract of level land along the shore of the East Fork of the Little Miami River, the land that stretches from the bridge to the top of Kline’s Hill on Route 32.

Back to Kentucky went young Dimmitt. He had one of the essentials to build a home in the wilderness — his land; now he needed the other — a wife. On November 3, 1797, he married Phoebe (or Phebe) Gest and brought her back to Ohio to begin their life together. He also brought back with him James and John Gest, brothers of his bride, not so much for companionship this time, but for protection and help. A cabin was erected the same season (between the current Post Office and College Drive). It had a puncheon floor, yet it had an air of comfort and afforded shelter to many a pioneer on the lookout for a new home.

The Dimmitts and the Gests lived very much in isolation. The nearest cabin was seven miles away. Their first year they planted a few acres of corn at Columbia, 15 miles west on leased land, for as yet their land was covered with dense forest. They found their way by a blazed trail through the timber. One day while the menfolk were away at the corn patch, Mrs. Dimmitt was dreadfully frightened by six Indians, who decided to stop and to prowl around while passing by, but she hid and escaped harm. After that, the men took turns staying at home to keep her company.

For 10 years the only company the Dimmitts and Gests had were each other, passing settlers and stray Indian parties. No one seemed eager to settle in the valley. Then in 1806, Charles Robinson, a native of Maryland, who had moved to Virginia before the Revolution and from there to Kentucky, heard from Ezekiel Dimmitt of the wondrous fertility of the Ohio Country and came to the valley with his young family. He arrived at the Dimmitt cabin on the July 6. He liked what he saw, and the Dimmitts had their first neighbors. A cabin was built for the Robinsons nearby, where they lived until the following spring, when they moved to a farm of their own on Lucy Run, about four miles south of Batavia.

Living from the land was a necessity for these settlers, not only food-wise, but in all ways. The boys were clothed in buckskin breeches, the skins being furnished by Richard Doughty, a good hunter and a true pioneer neighbor, living in the southern part of Batavia, where he settled soon after the Robinsons. Tile girls were dressed in coarse cloth made at home, the reels for weaving having been borrowed from Sarah Mitchell, living in Miami Township.

Doctors were nowhere to be found, and since Mrs. Robinson possessed some medical knowledge, she was often called upon to visit the sick, and so successful was she in her treatment that she soon had an extended reputation. People came to her for assistance for many miles around, and twice she was called to Kentucky at night, guided by a small beacon fire on the opposite shore. Often she went on her mission of mercy alone, following a trace whose dim course was shown by blazed trees, with not a house in sight for many miles. Mrs. Robinson was also “mighty in the Scriptures” and was thus enabled to bring healing to the soul, as well as to the body.

Excerpted from History of Batavia, Ohio, 1814–1965, by Rosanna Hoberg.